Multi-Site Churches as Futuristic Bus Ministries

Multi-site churches are all the rage in evangelical Christianity right now.

A multi-site church is one corporate body of believers that meets in more than one location. Over the last 30 years the movement has gone from 10 churches in the United States to over 5,000 churches who have multiple campuses.

There’s a lot to say about multi-site churches, and I hope to pull together a series of posts on them. For the record, the church where I serve has a second campus that is part of our ministry. But recently I was talking with another pastor about this movement and some of the similarities it has across church history. Multi-site isn’t so much a new concept as it is more a new way of seeing a historical concept.

One of the things that my fellow minister said, that really got me thinking, was that this movement really isn’t that much different in terms of scope than the Bus Ministries of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. 

Essentially, during this era the churches that “really got it” and were seeing growth were also doing some kind of bus ministry. If you’re unfamiliar, a bus ministry is where a local church purchases surplus (or recently retired) school buses and sends them into neighborhoods and apartment communities to pick up kids and teens, and some adults, to bring them to church. For churches that really utilized this ministry during this period they would send bus teams (driving the school buses) into those communities on Saturdays to connect with the kids and teens.

Bus ministries exploded and some of the largest churches in America had vibrant bus ministries. Annual Bus Ministry Conventions would draw in many leaders and volunteers to talk about strategy, planning, and even how to finance this ministry. Consultants would go out to churches to talk it up. Churches all across America used bus ministries and lots of growth came out of it. Now, the buses sit idle in some parking lots or are used for overflow parking (unless they’ve been moved to a new place of worship…in the junkyard.)

As my ministry friend talked about I noticed some common features with the multi-site movement. I don’t think these are bad things, but I think it offers perspective.

The multi-site movement is here to stay…for a while. The movement is growing rather fast and many large churches are pushing it as the model for their growth. For the record, I think there is a lot of upside to multi-site church growth. So my point isn’t to denigrate the movement.

It is, though, to point out that church growth movements have come and gone over the last several hundred years. Before the bus ministries of the 60s, 70s, and 80s there was the Sunday School and revivalist movements. Just a frame of reference as we continue to move forward.

What should provoke us is the constant question of whether we’re seeing this ministry movement bring true spiritual growth through lives being changed and people coming to Jesus Christ. That is the ultimate measure of any movement.

So what do you think? Is this a fair characterization?